WASHINGTON -- The other day, I sat down to breakfast. It was a normal day. Five daily newspapers were laid out before me. As I went over the front pages, I downed orange juice and a bowl of oatmeal powdered with brown sugar and flaxseed. Then I went off to my library with the newspapers and a cup of coffee. By then, incidentally, I was revolted.
The New York Times carried on its front page a perfectly disgusting story. It was not a news story, for it broke no news. It was, rather, a feature story, meant to inform and, I presume, to move me to action. It was about the prevalence of suicide in Afghanistan by women who use cooking oil and matches to do themselves in, sometimes successfully, sometimes incompetently and all the more painfully. This was brought to my attention even before my matutinal coffee!
It is not the first time the Times -- or, for that matter, The Washington Post -- has put on its front page appalling stories that did not have to be there. Both newspapers run such feature stories on the front page rather regularly -- but not The Washington Times, not The Washington Examiner and certainly not The Wall Street Journal, my other three newspapers. They run repellent stories but usually inside. I think it tells you something about the biases of these newspapers.
The New York Times and The Washington Post share a liberal bias, and their preoccupations are increasingly morbid. The Washington Times, The Examiner and The Wall Street Journal are biased toward the conservative position. They do not shy from reality but generally keep it inside the newspaper, at least when they can. Whether they have my oatmeal in mind, they, for a certitude, have the dignity of the individuals covered in the story in mind, I hope. If the story had been breaking news, I would have expected all five newspapers to put it on the front page, but even then I would expect the conservative newspapers to desist from running pictures of corpses and mangled bodies. Certainly, the corpses would not be front and center -- as they often are in the liberal newspapers -- and faces would be covered.
As I say, liberals have become morbid. They are obsessive about the gruesome and the gloomy. "The night before she burned herself, Gul Zada took her children to her sister's for a family party," the Times tells us. "All seemed well. Later it emerged that she had not brought a present, and a relative had chided her for it, said her son. ... This small thing apparently broke her." She was rushed to the hospital with burns over 60 percent of her body, and after two weeks of excruciating pain, she died. In the course of telling us of her death, the Times talks about other suicides and their causes. It tells us of these women's suffering. It is all quite pitiable, but what am I to do about it?
Presumably, not much. I cannot even talk about it, for what it tells us about Islamic culture is not very favorable. Life, particularly a woman's life, is not cherished in Afghanistan. But we do not talk about it, even in America. It is not politically correct. So the Times wrings its hands about the fate of women in Afghanistan and goes on. Perhaps tomorrow the paper will be talking about the fate of women in Kenya or dogs in Indonesia or a fabulous new disease. It is all of a piece with the liberal preoccupation with the morbid.
Actually, two days later, the Times pictured on its front page a young woman lying on a floor on some kind of pallet. She is in an isolation tent, but it is not very sanitary. Supplies are piled around her. She is forlorn. The caption reads "Cholera Moves Into the Beleaguered Haitian Capital" and goes on to explain: "A woman suspected of having cholera, in an isolation tent in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. An outbreak has spread into the city." Again, what are we to do? Well, I suppose we can send money, more money. We certainly cannot help the victims in Haiti in any real way. Nor can we aid the women of Afghanistan. We can share the liberals' morbid preoccupations or do what I usually do: read the liberal newspapers last.